12th Annual Owingeh Tah Pueblos y Semillas Gathering and Seed Exchange
Abiquiu Rural Events Center, April 22, 2017
by: Pamela Walker
This year’s seed exchange at Abiquiu was the twelfth since the founding of the New Mexico Food and Seed Sovereignty Alliance in 2006. At that time, members of the New Mexico Acequia Association and the Traditional Native American Farmers Association wrote and signed a declaration of seed sovereignty to defend against “potential assaults to seeds and our culture” from contamination by genetically engineered seeds and from corporate appropriation of local seeds to patent for genetic engineering. In the spirit of resistance to cultural plundering articulated in the Declaration, together with a spirit of reverence for the sacred role of seeds in giving life, this Earth Day event drew nearly two hundred seed savers and representatives of several organizations: New Mexico Acequia Association; Sembrando Semillas de Abiquiu Youth; El Pueblo de Abiquiu Library and Cultural Center; Tewa Women United; and the National Immigrant Farming Initiative. “Seeds are gifts from our ancestors, and we honor them,” Paula Garcia, head of the New Mexico Acequia Association, noted in her welcome. “Think of the first time someone gave you seeds to plant. You carry that memory with you.”
Adding to Garcia’s welcome, Abiquiu rancher Virgil Trujillo said, “There’s immense and profound value in saving and sharing seeds. These are acts of love, resistance, and hope for the future.”
A ceremony of prayer and blessing preceded the seed exchange, during which water and soil were placed in vessels on a blanket in the center of the floor. Seed savers then brought seeds in small baskets and lined them up near four larger baskets on the blanket, an arrangement replicating the four cardinal directions. Next, the seeds were combined in one big basket (for youth to mix later with soil and water into seed balls), and dancers from Santa Clara Pueblo blessed all the offerings.
There’s a humble, homey beauty to seed saving and sharing – seeds of many shapes and sizes and colors stored in jars of many shapes and sizes, some tall, some short, some wide-mouthed, others narrow-mouthed, and usually marked with handwritten labels – and versions of this beauty were displayed on each table where seed savers set out their seeds. Sharing seeds and information occupied the group from late morning until one o’clock, when a locally sourced lunch of blue and white posole, red chile with local beef, beans, mixed-lettuce salad, and rice pudding was served.
The afternoon featured talks by community members on topics particularly relevant to the six remaining Tewa language pueblos of northern New Mexico.
During the panel “Acknowledging Indigenous Truth and Place,” Marian Naranjo and Louie Hena emphasized the sacredness of Tewa land to Tewa people. “The Tewa world is our church,” Naranjo said. “The air and water and land and each other, the creator put us here to care for these things, to keep going what the creator created.”
Hena, in a similar vein, said, “The whole Chama Valley is the floor of our church. The Jemez Mountains are one wall, and the Sangre de Cristos are the other.”
Both alluded to past and present injustices against the land and its people, and emphasized the need to continue ancestral ways of nourishing the land in defense of further injustices. Hena noted that the 2006 Seed Sovereignty Declaration is one of many such declarations worldwide, and that it shows that good energy can win over bad to protect seeds and prevent genetic engineering from destroying local seed and food communities.
Naranjo asked, “How can we not do hurtful things, but instead do things like this gathering?” And she answered, “We learn to co-exist because of our food. We eat together, share food, seeds.”
Beata Tsosie-Pena agreed and also called for addressing violence against girls, women, and the earth, and she cited local contamination issues related to nuclear waste and fracking for oil and gas in the Four Corners.
Following this panel was the talk “Los Genizaros de Abiquiu” by Virgil Trujillo, a descendent of genizaros — native people enslaved by the Spanish – something not much discussed until recently.
The panel “Seeds of Hope & Healing,” by youth leaders of several participating organizations, concluded the presentations. The panelists urged expanding the roles of youth in social-justice organizations, and called for more frequent gatherings. “I really believe in these gatherings,” Kayleigh Warren said, “the education they provide, the healing, friendship, and forgiveness.” The gathering closed with a prayer and a dance led by two dancers of Los Genizaros de Abiqui – a dance bringing everyone into a slowly moving circle, holding each other’s hands.